When creating a will, there are requirements and restrictions of which you should be aware. First and foremost, you must be an adult (over the age of 18) of “sound mind,” meaning you have to have the capacity to understand the full weight of what you are doing. Some states may allow you to handwrite your will, but it is advised that you use a typed document. You must sign your will to make it valid. If you cannot, you must designate someone to sign in the presence of witnesses, and the signature should be notarized. A will remains valid until it is either entirely revoked or replaced by an updated, valid will. Sometimes, minor changes are made by an amendment (known as a “codicil”) to avoid having to rewrite the entire will.
Some states have laws prohibiting the disinheritance of your spouse or dependent children. You will not be able to completely disinherit your spouse without their consent, which can be included in a pre-nuptial agreement. Most jurisdictions will allow your spouse to have a right of election, meaning your spouse may take a legally determined percentage (sometimes as much as 50%) of your estate if they are not satisfied with your will. Non-dependent children, however, can be disinherited. If you have such a preference, it should be expressly stated in your will to avoid any confusion and/or possible legal challenges.
When creating a will, you should appoint a personal representative (known as an “executor”) to see to it that any specific wishes you may have stated in your will are performed. Your executor does not necessarily have to be a relative, but most people usually choose one, or sometimes a close friend. You should state an alternate choice, as well. The executor you choose needs to be aware of what is expected of them before you appoint them, to ensure they are willing to take on the assigned duties. Your executor will manage all of your assets, collect any debts owed to you at death, sell any property necessary in order to pay taxes or other expenses and file any necessary documents for your estate.
If you happen to have minor or dependent children, you can use your will to designate a guardian to care for them if your spouse is no longer living. If you do not designate a guardian, the courts can appoint someone who may not be the person you would have chosen. Once again, most people choose a relative or close friend to be the guardian of their child(ren), and will often name an alternate person, as well. A potential guardian should always know that they have been chosen for this task, and should be made fully aware of what will be required of them. Choosing a guardian will often affect other aspects of your will, since you may want to detail added financial support for the guardian to assist in raising your child(ren).